It’s a good question. If we believe God is love, how can there be so much hate? In the world? Among Christians?
What does it say about us when we consider the old song “They will know we are Christians by our love” or Jesus’s instruction in John 13:35:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Now. In this moment.
Of course we know why we hate. We’re pretty good at it.
But the more challenging question is why is there so much hate? What does this do to our understanding of God? And what does that mean for us?
Why is there so much hate?
This is the big, existential question, isn’t it? If you’ve spent time working on who you think God is, what you think God is up to, and what God thinks of creation, you probably have a pretty good head start.
If you’ve done this work, then you’ve got a direction in which you’re already headed.
Three basic directions emerge: the divine force, the outside force, and the internal force.
1. The Divine Force
or God is in control of everything!
God’s doing this, so it is either that God wants it to be all jacked up or else God has some mysterious motive for letting the world be all jacked up. Either way, God has a tight-fisted control over everything. If we were to bumper sticker this idea it would be “If God is your copilot, you’re sitting in the wrong seat.”
Here the priority is that God must remain in control.
2. The Outside Force
or God would totally be in control if it weren’t for that sneaky devil!
All creation is good, just as Genesis said, but that sneaky devil (what a trickster! And so evil!) is just so charismatic. We can’t help ourselves. His power is so great (not as great as God’s [but somehow God never seems to win] but still pretty good – er I mean bad) that we are helpless. Stupid Original Sin. So we need Jesus or something like that.
Here the priority is to excuse God and blame an external force (Satan).
3. The Internal Force
or let’s be honest, we’re the reason we screw up!
Despite what God wants, we just can’t seem to help it. Maybe it’s that Original Sin thing. Or maybe it’s that we don’t have enough trust in God. Or maybe it’s that we don’t actually listen when we talk with each other. Whatever it is, we aren’t being pushed or tricked into hating each other, we do that on our own. That has nothing to do with a higher power.
Here the priority is to claim human responsibility for human action.
What does this do to our understanding of God?
Depending on which of the three we pick, we are placing responsibility for hate on a different player in the game.
If God is responsible for all the world’s hate, then I have a hard time saying that God is love.
To make Satan responsible for hate requires an elaborate theological system which outsources the responsibility for humanity’s relationship with God to some other force.
But if we make humanity responsible for human action, then it explains our problem and reveals the solution. But it also leaves God looking a little passive.
I can see why we might be reluctant to find satisfaction with any of our options.
And then what does that mean for us?
Of the three options, only one gives us much agency.
Sure, if God is responsible in some mysterious way, we can have a say in our day-to-day. But in the big stuff (you know war, famine, all manner of violence) it’s a lost cause.
Or if it’s the problem of an evil outsider, then God isn’t the one doing it and we have some agency. We make decisions, but everything feels dualistic: the angel on your shoulder whispering to us: “Please do the right thing.” and a little red devil with a pitchfork screaming “Hit ’em! He deserves it!” This view elevates evil to a counter-God status, which is a whole other problem.
No, the one option that gives us any real say in both the day-to-day and the big stuff is the third option: that we are responsible.
We don’t have peace because we haven’t made peace.
There are hungry and homeless in our community because we haven’t fed or sheltered them.
Our political system has gotten so angry and dysfunctional because we have encouraged it to be so. It’s a source of conflict because we have elevated conflict rather than a place of compromise and work for the benefit of the people in common.
There is hate in the world because we choose to hate. And if the mark of our faith is our love, then it is hard to say there’s a whole lot of faith around.
It’s about our relationship.
This third option is also the only one which deals with our half of the relationship with God. The first has it be all about God. The second excuses our behavior, allowing us to say “the devil made me do it!” Only the third option allows us to be responsible for ourselves. To own our behavior.
It’s also consistent with the constant struggle between God and humanity from the beginning. From the grumbling in the desert to the grumbling about leadership; wanting kings, then wanting saving from them. The struggles which led to Exile and struggles to be faithful under Rome. Our trouble in listening to Jesus and our fights with each other to have the right view of Jesus.
The most common problem for humanity in scripture and history has been holding up our side of the bargain.
So when it comes to hate in the world, it’s hard not to point the finger at ourselves.
But remember, we know the solution.
It’s found in relationship. In listening to and loving God and our neighbor. It’s in building community.
Paul perfectly puts into words the solution:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!